Monday, December 13, 2004

New Math: China fast becoming a military and economic rival

Mark Helprin, who I've blogged about more than is necessary, writes in today's Wall Street Journal that China is on its way to achieving "military and economic parity with the United States."

This is the kind of thing that makes my eyes glaze over.
China is methodically following the example of Meiji Japan in moving from a position of inferiority to one of military equality with far superior rivals, by deliberate application of a striking phenomenon of economics that is to the military relation between states what the golden section is to architecture. Consider a hypothetical country of 10 million people, and a $1 billion GNP, that devotes 10% of its $100 per capita GNP to defense. The people are left with $90/year, suffering one day in 10 to support a $100 million military outlay. But after 18 years of 8% economic growth and 2% population increase per annum, it becomes a hypothetical country of 14 million souls, a GNP of $4 billion, and a per capita GNP of $285. If the people retain only three-quarters of this, they are still almost two and a half times richer than they were before, and the military budget can safely rise to $1 billion. Thus, the GNP increases by a factor of four, per capita GNP more than doubles, and defense outlays swell by a factor of 10.

I knew I should have paid more attention in class. I don't quite understand this, and it makes my head hurt to try. Translation please.

This, however, I get:
An example of China's growing power to interfere with crucial U.S. interests is the new Sino-Persian $100 billion trade agreement, the perfect complementarity of which--manufactures and military goods in exchange for oil and Islamic endorsement--is echoed by the fact that, at present, the chief American counter to Iranian nuclear weapons development is the threat of a trade embargo, which China need not observe, through the Security Council, over which China has a veto.

China may, indeed, be the wild card in our dealings with Iran. It would be to our benefit to ensure that we and they have the same goals there. But how likely is that?


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